Is Obama going to gut NASA?

By Phil Plait | December 20, 2008 11:50 am

Whither NASA?

On the campaign trail a year or so ago, then-Presidential candidate Barack Obama said he would cut NASA money to help fund education. Then he changed his tune, saying he would add money to NASA’s budget to help ease the transition from the Shuttle era — which will end abruptly with the last Shuttle launch in 2010 — to the age of Constellation, NASA’s program for future manned spaceflight using the new Ares rockets, still being designed and built.

It should be noted he said that while stumping in Florida and Texas, both of which are major states supporting NASA; they’re the homes of NASA’s Kennedy and Johnson space centers.

Then came rumors that NASA chief Mike Griffin was giving Obama’s NASA transition team a lot of static. Griffin denounced those rumors, but that doesn’t do much in real life to dispel them; denials never do. And so the whispers still exist that Constellation may suffer cuts, drastic or otherwise.

At the same time, Obama is making an incredibly strong showing of his support for science. Nobel Laureate Steven Chu will head the Department of Energy. Physicist John Holdren will be his science advisor. Jane Lubchenco will head the NOAA. These people are all highly-trained scientists at the top of their game, not policy wonks or campaign contributors or just plain old buddies grossly unqualified to run a lemonade stand, let alone a government agency.

A fresh wind is blowing through the White House, and it’s taking away the stench of antiscience. To doubly mix a metaphor, it looks like the jackbooted heel that’s been at the throat of science for eight years is about to get the boot.

Still and all… where does NASA fit in with all this? It has always been scrutinized for wasting money. That’s not surprising, given how high profile NASA missions are, and how expensive they seem. When an astronaut loses a $100,000 tool bag over the side of the space station, it seems like a colossal boondoggle. But that ignores the details: you can’t just take a canvas tote bag into space; the materials have to withstand a vacuum, not disintegrate when the air is gone, not leak out toxins when the pressure drops, be accessible in microgravity and by astronauts’ bulky gloves, and so on. There is no simple stuff when you’re dealing with space travel. Complexity equals cost.

It’s orders of magnitude worse when a probe is lost. The instant a Mars spacecraft goes missing, the first thing the newspapers report is "The 200 million dollar Mars probe…". Heck, they do that when things go well.

But in reality, NASA is cheap. It comprises less than 1% of the U.S. annual budget. It’s paid for itself a dozen times over (did you know that digital cameras are a direct descendant of the detectors used in Hubble’s Wide Field/Planetary Camera?). We get so much out of it, for what is in reality so little cost.

But now we’re in a recession. The economy is tanking, and politicians need to look like (or actually indicate) they are fiscally responsible. Now, when you have a full hard drive, it makes more sense to delete that 4 Gb movie you’ve already seen rather than manually delete a bunch of 4K text files. But politicians aren’t like that. They go after highly-visible targets, even if they are only a tiny fraction of the problem. And NASA’s head sticks way, way out. Cutting it may look responsible… even when we still spend $20 million dollars per hour on a war started for no reason, when a large fraction of the hundreds of billions of dollars given as a blank check to the bank bailout program might as well have been shredded, and when there are far larger government agencies than NASA that wouldn’t be able to fund their catering bill with the cost of NASA’s lost tool bag.

And now there are reports that Obama is looking very closely at NASA’s budget. I agree — quite strongly — that NASA really needs to tighten up its budget management.

But NASA is a drop in the government’s bucket as far as money goes. And that is a huge bucket. If I had Obama’s ear, I would tell him this: put a team on NASA. Have them look over its management, see where improvements can be made, and recommend implementations so that it runs a tighter ship. But we need that ship. There are many, many places to go looking for money that can be used to fund needed programs, money that is being wasted as quickly as it’s printed.

NASA doesn’t need budget cuts. It needs better fiscal management, and it needs more money. Money to build bigger telescopes that take pictures of surpassing beauty, images of distant realms that inspire children and make adults gasp in awe. Money to build satellites that study our home planet and see what man has wrought. Money to research how to build better airplanes (that’s what the first "A" in NASA is, after all). Money to reach out and touch other worlds. And money to design cheaper access to space to make all this possible.

NASA is flawed, of course. It’s a government bureaucracy. But it doesn’t need much to keep it going, and going better. NASA is a symbol. It shows us the best of what we can achieve.

Studying the Universe, exploring it, trying to understand it, is part of what makes us human.

We need that, and it costs so little. I hope some of the brilliant scientists Obama has chosen to advise him can make that point to him. I would consider it one of their most important duties.

Obama picture courtesy alfcio2008’s Flickr stream.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: NASA, Piece of mind, Politics

Comments (101)

  1. Government always seems to focus on the wrong places when it comes time for budget cuts. I don’t know if it’s because the useless programs happen to be the pet projects of powerful people, or education and science get targeted in an attempt to drum up support for raising taxes, but I can’t say I’d be surprised if Obama takes a hatchet to NASA, whether it’s a useful move or not. Wildly disappointed and annoyed, but not surprised.

  2. maritza

    please do not let it do nasa is the synbol of future for our children and us too know more for our world.

  3. peter

    I would gut NASA for letting that eco-fascist, Hansen, run loose. His meddling in politics while a government employee and fascist statements about jailing business leaders alone indicate the non accountability of this organization.

    This is in addition, of course, to the year after year of milking that NASA does.

  4. Well, from out here in Europe I can tell you this: even when the US reputation around the world tanked supremely, when it became a bunch of shatters, when the country it became known as the most dangerous threat to peace and stability on the planet, people still got all thrilled and pumped up with each success NASA brought us.

    That’s how important NASA is. ‘Nuff said.

  5. Melissa

    We always do what we’re asked to do at NASA, and are always given very little to do it with. We will continue to make due, but really, we get a pittance next to just about any other agency, and none of them are held up the way we are in the press.

    I have been holding my breath since November. I do not have very high hopes this time. If I thought the Clinton administration was bad for NASA, I have a feeling that that will be nothing compared with Obama. At least the Bush Vision gave us direction (if not money).

    You have a lot of cache with this blog, and you were a huge supporter of change as well as of science, perhaps your voice will be heard.

  6. David D

    Why exactly did all of you Obamaniacs absolutely SWOON over all the campaign rhetoric? Obama is charismatic, he’s appointed some decent people to his administration, but at the end of the day, he is merely a politician.

    It’s not about how terrible McCain was going to be. It’s like critical thinking seemed to go out the window with Obama. Well–we shall see . . .

  7. His Shadow

    So, Peter, are you one of those blinkered types that thinks the egregious crimes of big business are accidents?

  8. David D, maybe you missed the part of this article about how Obama is gathering people who actually understand science rather than people who fight ideologically against it. That’s a big reason I supported and still do support him.

  9. Wendy

    Obama needs to read this entry!

  10. Levi in NY

    Umm, it’s kind of hard to be president if you’re not a mere politician.

    Is Obama going to be perfect? No, of course not. It would be ridiculous for me to think there could ever be a perfect president, and I’d actually be kind of scared if I saw somebody in charge doing exclusively things that I was highly supportive of.

    I volunteered for and donated to the Obama campaign not because he’s charismatic and has rhetorical skills. Surely that’s a bonus to be counted in his favor (we don’t need another 8 years of Bushisms, do we?), but it wasn’t the deciding factor for me. I did it because he actually seems to have good ideas about stuff that he intends to do things about. Stuff like climate change, ending the war in Iraq, ensuring we have proper regulation to keep businesses accountable, and making sure health insurance is affordable to the millions, myself included, who simply can’t afford it right now.

    How exactly did critical thinking “go out the window with Obama”? I don’t get it. Do you really think I voted for him for completely irrational reasons, or that nobody who thinks things through critically can be an Obama supporter?

  11. David D

    @Phil Plait–

    No I didn’t miss what you said: “he’s appointed some decent people to his administration” is part of the 2nd sentence in my comment. My point is that Obama is still a politician, and I think it is important to be very wary of what a politician says on the campaign trail.

    Perhaps my question is, if he does indeed “gut NASA,” how will that affect your support? I am assuming of course your support did not change with the Rick Warren thing, or the Robert Gates thing, or the rumblings that the troops won’t be home in 16 months . . .

  12. Levi in NY

    Another thing to note about Obama’s weekly address: he joins the list of Presidents who have pushed that wacky “NASA really landed on the Moon” theory. 😉

    “From landing on the moon, to sequencing the human genome, to inventing the Internet, America has been the first to cross that new frontier because we had leaders who paved the way…”

  13. peter

    Obama just appointed John Holdren from Harvard as environmental guru? Isn’t he the one who predicts that 1Bn will die by 2020 from global warming.
    Is this the same John Holdren who hangs out with Paul Ehrlich, the nutter who was warning about global cooling in the 70’s and also from Harvard?

  14. Old Geezer

    I have supported and voted for Obama, but I don’t see him as Santa Claus. I see him more as the parent with limited funds, standing next to Santa at the mall, hearing one of his several children saying, “…ana a doll, ana bicycle, anaWii, ana puppy, ana kitten, ana….” He checks his bank balance and his credit card balance and decides just what he can deliver.

    I know it would be wonderful to get a new super telescope. Heaven (no pun intended) knows Hubble is just so last Century. But health care for those who need it, education for those who don’t get enough of it now, food for children who will never go to bed on a full stomach, a solution for the economy….. are on the list too.

    Let’s cut the guy some slack. He’s not even the official President yet! How about we let him fumigate the Oval Office, find out where the light switches are and see how the first two weeks go before we start all of the, “I didn’t get what I asked for.” whining.

  15. Gary Ansorge

    peter:,,,hmmm, interesting (lower case) name,,,did you know a guy named,,,something,,,,Nixon???

    Guru: definition: TEACHER,,,OMG, Obama appointed an environmental TEACHER???

    Case in point, malarial carrying mosquitos LOVE hot, humid climes. GW should increase the critters environmental range.
    Malaria already kills millions and if its range increases that could well go to tens of millions, so yeah, from malaria to typhoid, typhus, cholera, etc, lack of fresh water, reductions in food availability, and a bunch of other results of GW, easily a billion folk could croak by 2020. 900 million already go to bed hungry every night.

    ,,,and oh yeah, having been afflicted with malaria since the age of five, I can personally attest to its being a very not-fun disease.

    As far as Paul Ehrlich( founder of Zero Population Growth) his predictions were based upon then known food production techniques. He ignored (or didn’t know about) the total ecological balancing going on where humans take over every available niche, cutting into our ecological “capital” to feed our population. The “green revolution” allowed India and others to continue to feed their populations,,,which just delays the day of reckoning. Some environmentalists estimate we’re already 4 billion people over the maintainable mark,,,
    Oh, I might mention, having once lived on the streets of this great land of ours,,,there really are Americans who don’t get enough of the right kinds of food to be healthy. Some even wake up dead under a bridge overpass because they were MALNOURISHED.

    Oh well, I guess that’s just natural selection in action,,,
    ,,,which is another cop out, like saying “I’m rich and it’s easy. You’re probably poor because you don’t deserve to live.”

    Humans have the power to care for their less advantaged brethren.
    Some actually endeavor to live up to their ideals(like those pesky Muslims), rather than toss aside the weak.

    Social Darwinists are idiots!

    I predict(harkening back to Criswell) that Ehrlichs predictions will be seen to have been unduly optimistic however, don’t worry America. You’ll have plenty of food. For a while,,,

    Gary 7

    Centers for Disease Control publication which noted, “During the past three decades, the most common emergencies affecting the health of large populations in developing countries have involved famine and forced migrations.”[9] Famine was defined as “a condition of populations in which a substantial increase in deaths is associated with inadequate food consumption”.[10]

  16. Gary Ansorge

    Sorry Phil, I forgot to credit that quote to Wikipedia,,,

    GAry 7

  17. Rob

    Wow. RFKjr, Lisa Jackson, Warren, FISA, etc

    How can any self-respecting Democrat still support Obama??????

  18. I think NASA is simply a visible target when it comes to budget cuts. While other programs might chew up more money, NASA is obvious and out there. When a politician cuts back on a top-secret program or a classified but money chewing program it’s not as visible.

  19. Gort

    You know, it really is self-defeating to spend money to give students a high-tech education only to take away all the high-tech jobs

  20. You hit the nail on the head: “[NASA] needs better fiscal management.” The problem isn’t that a tool bag costs too much; it’s that every project NASA embarks on ends up costing 2-4x times the projected amount.

    Frankly I think budgets cuts might be the means to better fiscal management. I have no doubt that NASA could do even more with less money if they managed it better, and having less money might be exactly what they need to learn that lesson.

    Just because NASA is cheap compared to other federal programs (or wars or bailouts) doesn’t mean they get a free ride. The time has long past for ignoring this organizations long-standing fiscal buffoonery.

  21. quasidog

    It seems that with the current world (not just USA) economic situation right now, which you have pointed out, spending needs to be looked at everywhere, including outside NASA, the other so called 99% of the USA budget. (I am Aussie so I am no expert on your finacial budget)

    Could it be that seeing as NASA is such focal point for astronomers and space buffs, that as soon as it gets a mention … we overreact ? Sure Obama may be looking at tightening up spending or even cutting costs, but is he doing that in other aspects of the budget that are being unrecognised by space lovers like ourselves, due to their being … non spacey ? (he yes spacey)

    We love it. So we get touchy when it gets touched. But is there a chance we are being over sensitive about it, or a little bit ignorant of the budget cuts and spending correction being made in other aspects of the USA economy? Sure the war/s stick out like a sore thumb as a huge waste of money (and life) .. but are other less interesting budget cuts being ignored here?

    I love NASA because of all the things it has helped me discover about our place in the cosmos, and because it has SPACESHIPS DAMMIT !! :) … but are we being a bit too sensitive when we hear it is going to get cuts in funding … possibly? I am not sure. I mean, what is the rush to have it all …. now ? Patience I think is being forgotten with this issue. I reckon in due time it will return to it’s former glory. I just don’t know if we need to panic that it i not happening right this minute.

  22. Miko

    Fiscal responsibility? Nah, expect Keynesianism instead. For those who are unaware, Keynesianism is the economic equivalent of global warming denial and basically asserts that when times get tough it’s doubly important for politicians to be as fiscally irresponsible as possible. Naturally, support for it is around 0% among academic economists (who care about things like facts and reality) and near 100% among politicians (who base their support of ‘theories’ based not on scientific plausibility or data analysis but on whether it supports what they already wanted to do). Since Obama has already given his support to the government wasting money at record rates in a misguided attempt to make it look like he’s doing something to help the economy, I don’t think we need fear that any government programs will be cut, whether they deserve it or not.

  23. David D


    I seem to remember a friendly wager made between Ehrlich and Julian Simon. Didn’t turn out so well for Mr. Ehrlich.

    One of the hallmarks of science (vs pseudoscience) is its ability to make predictions that actually come true. Ehrlich’s rather specific predictions like famines of unbelievable proportions occurring by 1975, or hundreds of millions of people starving to death in the 1970s and ’80s did not come true. And these predictions were separate from the wager with Simon! You can rationalize Ehrlich’s failures all you want, but then you begin to sound like those poor psychics, you know? There are a LOT of things that Ehrlich didn’t know, doesn’t know and fails to understand. I have read that Holdren has distanced himself somewhat from this alarmist clown; I hope this is the case.

    How sad that malaria is such an easily prevented disease, with JUDICIOUS application of DDT, enhanced mosquito netting, etc. Nice to see the Obama pdf on ending deaths from malaria by 2015 (Google it), but as I mentioned above, sure hope it’s not just campaign rhetoric.

  24. Scott Lange

    As a big Obama supporter and avid amateur astronomer, I wouldn’t have a problem with some moderate cuts in NASA’s budget considering the state the economy is currently in. What I would like though, is for those cuts to come on the manned exploration side. We’re getting far more for our money from the much less expensive unmanned program. Ideally, I’d expand the unmanned program and get rid of the manned program all together. I like seeing astronauts in space as much as anyone, but when funds are limited we need to concentrate on learning as much about our universe for each dollar we spend as possible.

  25. Frank Ch. Eigler

    “… the jackbooted heel that’s been at the throat of science for eight years …”

    It is such high-fidelity reality-based rhetoric that keeps me coming back for more.
    And the star pictures.

  26. Utakata

    @ His Shadow…

    Peter is a different kind of fascist, so don’t feed him…it only make him bigger.

  27. Preach it! You’ve echoed my thoughts beautifully. Obama’s dorking with NASA is symbolism over substance. NASA is the best return on tax dollars of any government agency. Obama’s initial position, subsequent flip (which was nothing more than campaign pandering), and second flop to his original position may set the standard for his administration. His transition team’s activities will probably culminate in a philosophical cleansing of NASA and all agencies.

    There is so much waste in other, larger agencies. NASA is just the highly-visible, low-hanging fruit. People should see what the Border Patrol’s budget is. Talk about money down the drain. NASA can send people into space for 1/3 of what it takes the Border Patrol to not be able to stop 12 illegals in a pickup truck.

    This is certainly not the change most people thought their vote was going to generate. I wonder how many people know there was a second part to the chant “Yes we can.” The whole phrase was, “Yes we can make foolish, meaningless changes that are designed to make you depend on the party for your every need and ensure your vote next time.”

  28. Alan Moore

    Out of curiosity, are you saying that a million dollars spend by NASA is more important that a million dollars spent on infrastructure projects? or homeless shelters? Is NASA (or science in general) produce any solution to immediately impact the current economic crisis the world finds itself in?

    I agree, the NASA budget could always use more money, but that doesn’t place its importance above any other mis-managemented government agency that will provide immediate assistance to the people affected by the economy? How many jobs is NASA able to provide?

    Sometimes there are other problems that need be solved before yours. You can advocate science, but it needs to be placed in its proper place of importance in the grand scheme of things.

  29. Gary Ansorge

    Ehrlichs predictions were based upon what he knew of the natural world. Populations grow to the limits of the ecology to support them, the environment goes thru one of its unpredictable changes and then populations crash. THAT’S the natural world, that’s what he knew and it scared the bjebus out of him because he could see it happening to US. Were there things he didn’t know? Yes! Was he unduly pessimistic? Yes!
    Was he wrong in the long term? Unfortunately, probably not,,,

    One thing he couldn’t wrap his head around was that humans have the capacity to expand into a much larger environment(space), which opens up a whole new ball game, for then we’re no longer dealing with a closed environment(Earth) but an open one, full to overflowing with new resources of matter, energy and room to grow.

    The following link is to a site that keeps an active clock of births/deaths world wide. As of a few minutes ago, world deaths were at nearly 52 million this year. That’s nearly 1.5 billion over the last 30 years, so actually, his estimates for the period HE was talking about were somewhere near the real figures however, those death rates include everything and don’t try to include contributions from malnutrition. For that we need input from the World Health Organization.
    Quote from the above link:
    “Approximately 790 million people in the developing world are still chronically undernourished, almost two-thirds of whom reside in Asia and the Pacific.”Source 28

    So, how was Ehrlich wrong? His timing was just a bit off.

    GAry 7

  30. SLC

    The answer to NASAs’ money woes is very simple. Scale back on the worthless, money wasting manned space flight program. But of course, the advocates of this approach don’t know what they are talking about.

  31. jorge c.

    dear mr.gary ansorge: malaria (mal’aria: bad air in italian) is transmitted by a branch of mosquitoes called “anopheles”, and they are present around the whole world. in canada was an outbreak in 1820, in belgium in 1945 (after de world war ii) and in the 1930 in siberia!!! (yes, in the gulags..)please see for more information en.wikipedia/wiki/anopheles. the excellent sanitary conditions in the first world stops the spread of malaria, no temperatures
    the spread of malaria by global warming if a goremyth…

  32. James B

    After our own survival, space exploration should be humanity’s greatest priority.

    In fact, it’s the ONLY way to ensure our survival.

    Our current policy is the equivalent of living our whole lives in a cupboard and never going outside, because we think it would be a waste of effort.

  33. Elmar_M

    I was going to write a lengthy post here about why I think that Ares1 should and will get the axe (AresV is something different and it is still on track IMHO).
    The main issue is not the cost itself, it is the design problems, the delays, the compromises/reduced performance and generally what they get for the money.
    Instead of listing all the issues myself, I will just link to a few articles from people that are much smarter than me and better with words than I am:

    Here is an interesting comment from the Orlando Sentinel on the topic of Griffin and the Constellation programme:
    Claims that other rockets would outperform Ares are worth fully investigating. If the transition team doesn’t have the expertise, it could name an independent panel of experts to do the job. Mr. Griffin shouldn’t have a problem with that. Such a review might vindicate his judgment.

    These articles I listed here, pretty much sum the situation up quite nicely.
    To make this clear again though: my problem is Ares1, not AresV. Ares 1 is not a good system for getting into LEO. It should be replaced with something cheaper (in operation, but maybe even in development cost) and better (e.g. reusable, or at least partially reusable, or somehow else progressive). The rest of the VSE- architecture can (from what it looks like right now) stay as it is. Just getting Orion into LEO should not be done with Ares1. That is also not a budget question. I would double NASAs budget if they were to do something great with it (e.g. build RLVs to get people and Orion capsules into LEO), or at least a cost effective or otherwise interesting solution that is worth the money. Ares1 is clearly not worth the money, as there are competing approaches that are cheaper and better performing.

  34. justcorbly

    Two points:

    1. Obama doesn’t seem like the kind of guy who would score cheap political points with an unaware public by leveraging misconceptions about NASA’s budget.

    2. We need to be building a national spacefaring capability, not just standing up projects to go from A to B. It’s 40 years since Apollo 8 looped around the Moon. Today, we’re still debating if we ought to do that again. Fourty years after Orville and Wilbur’s flight the skies were filled with airplanes. I;m not certain if Contstellation should continue unchanged because I’m not confident that it’s legacy will be any greater than the Shuttle’s.

  35. ad

    > Gary Ansorge Says:
    > December 20th, 2008 at 4:03 pm

    ” Ehrlichs predictions were based upon what he knew of the natural world. Populations grow to the limits of the ecology to support them, the environment goes thru one of its unpredictable changes and then populations crash. THAT’S the natural world, that’s what he knew and it scared the bjebus out of him because he could see it happening to US. Were there things he didn’t know? Yes! Was he unduly pessimistic? Yes!”

    Apparently he didn’t know very much about it. Human population don’t behave like that. Give them good health, education and living conditions, then birth-rates plummet. That’s why by 2050 the total human population is expected to start declining. By 2100 it will likely be much less than now.

  36. ad

    And Gary, who said:
    “Centers for Disease Control publication which noted, “During the past three decades, the most common emergencies affecting the health of large populations in developing countries have involved famine and forced migrations.”[9] Famine was defined as “a condition of populations in which a substantial increase in deaths is associated with inadequate food consumption”.[10]”

    And what was the most common cause of these famines? Crop failures? Changing climate? Over-population? I don’t think so. They were all (or nearly all) human caused disasters… war, politics. They were all preventable.

  37. Steven L

    I love NASA. But those of you who are saying that NASA is humanity’s key to the universe have forgotten the recent orbital successes whose launch site was in China.

    America can abandon space. We have no national energy left to meet its challenges anyway (having exhausted ourselves in arguments about the true age of the universe and what should define a marriage,) and except at the lowest levels the people who go to work at NASA are bureaucrats looking for a government sinecure in an organization large enough and whose mission is incomprehensible enough to be able to spread the blame for failure thin enough to minimize the pain.

    I have an informal bet with a friend, concerning the language spoken at the first permanently-manned lunar base.

    I’ve bet on Mandarin.

  38. Gary Ansorge

    Steven: More likely Cantonese,,,the common tongue,,, or possibly Hindi.
    Perhaps Firefly was a more accurate prediction that we thought?

    Ad: Probably all of those were contributing factors.
    Yes, as populations acquire knowledge and social security nets, so that people have the power to choose and need not rely on large families to support them, their numbers stabilize however that still requires a tremendous growth in world GDP. The only way I can anticipate such growth is if the pie has no limit to its size. That REQUIRES access to the(accessible) three thousand plus (Earth) planets worth of resources in our solar system.

    Gary 7

  39. I like NASA and science in general. But I don’t like manned space missions, they’re a lot more expensive, and ultimately unnecessary, than unmanned flights.

  40. When was the last time you saw a mud hut launched into space?

  41. Ray

    “It should be noted he said that while stumping in Florida and Texas, both of which are major states supporting NASA; they’re the homes of NASA’s Kennedy and Johnson space centers.”

    Yes, your hero Obama said a number of things to audiences who wanted to hear them, followed by traveling to other states and saying the exact opposite.

    He’s a politician. By definition they lie to people for a living. Internalize that before you canonize them.

  42. Troy

    I suspect NASA and the new Moon project will have staying power. The Shuttle is so expensive, just killing it in 2010 will free up enough resources so that a slow ride to the Moon will be quite possible.

  43. I know that the approximate cost of the 50-year American space program has been calculated (somewhere in the 850 billion dollar range I believe). Considering the financial system bailout, 850 billion over 50 years is a bargain, for all the benefits NASA research and spinoff technology has generated. As Phil says, less than 1% of the budget is allocated to NASA. My question is this: Does anybody know of any attempts to place a rough estimate of the dollar value on the technology and other contributions NASA has made in its history? I know that’s probably asking the impossible, I was merely curious if anyone had tried, even as pure speculation. I would imagine that the benefit-to-cost ratio is enormous, but don’t know if it’s even remotely calculable.

  44. Is a million dollars spent on NASA research and development better than a million spent on any randomly selected infrastructural project? Yes. Straight up.

    It’s not even a comparison… either we spend a random million on some 2-lane to 4-lane expansion in Idaho, or we spend it on permanently extending our knowledge – and our technological power – over the known universe? Maybe I’m just crazy, but I’d pick the second option there.

    It’s always amazing to me how ignorant people are about the benefits of science, especially basic research – say, about other planets – which to do correctly requires a constantly advancing tide of new and amazing technological innovations.

    How do you get to Jupiter? If you answered, “Using wood and nails and bricks and mortar,” you’re way off. You get to Jupiter.. or Titan, or Pluto, or Proxima Centauri… by setting impossible goals and using a small amount of the Federal budget to coax thousands of researchers to create new problem fixes. When NASA decides to build a probe to some new and hostile world, they don’t just slam the thing together using stock parts. Instead, NASA solicits for the nation’s best scientists and engineers to think up clever solutions to a raft of research problems, pick the best and give them grants to let them go off and create. Everything they discover, create, invent, or revolutionize goes into the world library of science, forever.

    NASA contracts with all sorts of private enterprise to build all sorts of Reed Richards machines, such as brand new polymers, alloys, superconductors, and laser guns. Those companies sell their products to NASA and then go away to make billions and billions from selling other applications of the same revolutionary engineering to everyone in the world. When Pfizer develops a new weightless-drug that corrects bone loss in astronauts, they can still go sell a related product as an osteoporosis cure. When Lockheed Martin invents a new composite material for a heat shield, they can later go sell that new wondermetal to makes riches beyond the dreams of avarice.

    Actually, that last one is a real example, though I don’t remember which major aerospace company it was. A colleague of mine, the Washington University planetary scientist Raymond Arvidson, once told a story about his work on the Mars Phoenix program. He said that when the lander first started looking around with its sensors, he was told they weren’t supposed to point the spectrophotometers at the heat shield, which had landed some distance away. The deal was, the material making up the new heat shield was proprietary, and apparently a source of major projected profits. Without NASA asking for help and willing to provide incentive start-up money, that particular supermaterial probably wouldn’t have been invented yet.

    NASA probably does need a leaner administration running it, with fewer middle managers and whatnot. But in the end NASA delivers the goods, cheaply, and to everyone’s benefit. Clean out the pencilnecks and the politicians, but don’t cut the science. Big science builds strong nations and powerful economies. Period.

  45. Steve D

    I am impressed so far by Obama’s science stance, but I recall the post Apollo years when we gutted NASA to “spend that money on problems here on Earth.” I am still waiting for someone to tell me what we got for the money.

    Social science is pseudoscience. When was the last time one of our social programs submitted to any kind of test of effectiveness? Why can’t we discuss the possibility that our social programs, which waste more in a month than NASA spends all year, are based on failed theories? If NASA were still trying to get to the Moon, we’d say “forget it.” But social programs conceived about the same time as Apollo spend vastly more, have not made a dent in poverty, and are sacrosanct.

    So I’d like to think Obama will be a friend of science. But the first time there’s a clash between NASA and social programs, I don’t think NASA will win.

  46. Yes, Alan Moore, as Planetologist said, “Teach a man to fish…” That’s what science, research and NASA do. When you see how the spin-off technologies from NASA’s projects impact everything from welding to medical devices, money spent on NASA *is* more valuable than some government “full employment” temporary patch to the economy.

  47. quasidog

    I’ve read a lot of posts here and it seems many like to argue in the ‘science is more important than infrastructure’, or the reverse of that argument. It is all relative to who you are talking to and how relevant that persons situation is to the either/or point brought out. Many people have agreed that both things are important, or that other points like helping to tackle the world food crisis, or global warming, or war, or disease, or highways even are an issue.

    Everyone is going to see something that is more important to themselves, and it is true that some things, like scientific exploration, can and do contribute a great amount to many other unrelated issues. Telling someone however; for example a person that is starving, right now, not to worry because in 100 years time science will have worked it out, is ignorant. People like that need help right away, not in 100 years time. It is true that none of these points are either/or issues, and it is also true we can tackle many problems at once if we put our minds to it. Some things however are almost impossible to fix.

    My point is that although one person may see something as far more important to put money into over another thing, it does not mean that the ‘other thing’ does not deserve attention. A starving child cares little for the advances of space flight, and sadly, some scientists care little about a starving child.

    It is good to care about and point out that one issue may be more effective and important than another, but to say we should solely concentrate on one thing, with the hopes it will fix another thing, while at the same time ignoring how we may be able to ease the burden of the issue we seem to care less about .. is that how humanity works .. or is that how a machine works ?

    I love science and space exploration. I love the good in humanity also and the need to help ease a persons’ suffering too. Can’t we do both, but at the same time, not forget to prioritise certain aspects about it ?

    Personally… and I don’t see one as being more important than another … I would rather feed a kid and help him get a good night sleep … than see nice pictures of Mercury. That’s my view, but I would love to eventually see both.

  48. David D


    “Was he wrong in the long term? Unfortunately, probably not,,,”

    HE WAS WRONG ABOUT VERY SPECIFIC PREDICTIONS THAT HE MADE!!!! Did you know that he predicted US life expectancy at 42 years by 1980? This guy is junk science, pure and simple.

    “One thing he couldn’t wrap his head around was that humans have the capacity to expand into a much larger environment(space), which opens up a whole new ball game, for then we’re no longer dealing with a closed environment(Earth) but an open one, full to overflowing with new resources of matter, energy and room to grow.”

    That’s the only RIGHT thing you’ve said about Ehrlich so far. To be that clueless about humanity is strikingly ignorant. You know, another hallmark of science is the ability to say “Whoa–my theory was wrong.” Ehrlich has never done this, and steadfastly rationalizes his glaring failures.

    “He’s a politician. By definition they lie to people for a living. Internalize that before you canonize them.” Awesome.

  49. Mick

    The US ridiculously bloated military takes up over 50% of the yearly budget nowadays. (like what now? 600 Billion a year?) If it was cut by half the US would still VASTLY outspend any other country on military things.

    So how about cutting ten billion from the military (Which’d then still have an absurd budget of over 500 billion) and putting a billion or two into healthcare and a few other billions in various scientific things, including NASA.

    America would still have a ridiculously funded army, but it’d also have goodies for everyone.

  50. David D


    ” . . . takes up over 50% of the yearly budget nowadays.” Are you sure? Where did you get this figure?

  51. ErnestPayne

    Unfortunately the fiscal stupidity of the Bush regime has to be paid for. If you want to know where the Nasa budget went you have to look no further than Iraq and the tax cuts.

  52. Quiet Desperation

    Bring back the space plane. The scramjet based X-30 was many, many shades of awesome.

    What should Obama fund? Antimatter catalyzed nuclear pulse propulsion, baby!

    It’s the old nuclear bomb propulsion from Project Orion scaled down and done right. And it’s an antimatter drive. What’s not to love about that? Just don’t spill those anti-protons. :-)

    The US ridiculously bloated military takes up over 50% of the yearly budget nowadays.

    Where did you get 50% from?

    The 2008 Federal Budget

    People forget about all those entitlements. That’s where some real work needs to be done. Social Security really need a major revision if not a total rework, but everyone and his grandmother goes into apoplectic fits if you even suggest it.

  53. Gary Ansorge

    Quiet D: Dasn’t you dare mess with MY social Security. It’s the only thing that keeps me afloat these days.
    Yet, even with all that “extravegant” social security income, I STILL have to have a job,,,at 65,,,

    W/O social security, we’d have MORE seniors living under bridges, in their cars or beat up old motor homes, unable to feed themselves properly because they have to spend money for their meds,,,OH WAIT, Thta’s already the way it is,,,

    The very first Social Security check handed out in the 1930s was for $ 29.00,,,which sounds like zip, until you check the cost of living in those days. My dads first jobs as a meat cutter trainee(in 1936 at 48 Hrs/week) paid him $ 5.00/WEEK,,, and he was happy to get it. Social Security hasn’t provided that well for seniors since ,,,oh I guess the early 1940s,,,the war gutted everything.

    Are we a rich nation? Yes! Unfortunately, most of that wealth is in the hands of 2% of our populace. The other 98% of us have to divy up the remaining goodies and survive off that.

    Anti-Matter pulse engines,,,great idea. Now if we can just figure out how to make more than a few thousand ATOMS of the stuff,,,

    GAry 7

  54. Chris

    Thanks, Quiet Desperation! I love it when someone actual facts. The socialist ideologues just hate it when you remind people that the largest portion of the US federal budget has almost always been entitlement and social programs by far. You have effectively gutted the homiletic monetary arguments of many here, including Phil.

    I believe it was Margaret Thatcher who said, “The problem with socialism is that you eventually run out of other people’s money.”

    NASA is absolutely an important program that drives a ton of critical things in this country. It’s not going to be gutted by the Obama administration. But that war Phil and others keep ranting about was started for a reason. You may not like that reason (and many here will make up a reason other than what the historical facts show – just as they did about the composition of the US federal budget), but there was indeed a reason. To argue there was no reason shows you’re more politically leftist than a skeptic in this area at least. How come most self-appointed skeptics are politically to the left anyway?

    Now, I voted for Obama too. Mainly because I believe him to be more likely to be able to take the kinds of actions needed by a US President to get us going in a strong, positive direction again. Not that McCain doesn’t care. He most passionately does care about this country despite what the loony left wants to believe and market. So does GWB, even if you disagree with his decisions (many of which I do). I just felt Obama was more likely to be able to be effective given the current situation.

    So far, I have not been disappointed. He has shown himself to be very pragmatic in his choices overall. Not perfect, but certainly pragmatic, and I wouldn’t expect more from a politician. We usually get a lot less.

    The bottom line in this area for me (and I believe most Americans) is this:
    1) We want fiscal responsibility from our government – a reasonable assurance that our money isn’t being wasted. We have to manage our own budgets well in good times and bad, and we want our government to do the same. If we need to spend a bazillion dollars for the best spaceships, bombers, roads, bridges, healthcare, and education, then fine. But we want a bazillion dollars _worth_ of spaceships, bombers, roads, bridges, healthcare, and education.

    …and yes I said bombers. Is there an American here who really _doesn’t_ want the US military to be the best trained, best equipped, most powerful, and most efficient military operation there is? If you don’t, which country’s military would you rather have that be? China? Russia? Iran? …? Like it or not, there are some in this world who, summarizing Obama’s victory speech, would tear us down. Obama’s message to them was, “…we will defeat you.” When I see an F-22 fly past the Air Force base not far from my house, I’m pretty glad to know that guy’s on my side and not somebody else’s.

    2) We want our system to be both free (as in freedom) and fair. No cheating allowed!! That means there has to be a reasonable level of confidence that our system isn’t rigged. We’ve done a horrible job of that over the last umpteen years, and there’s more than enough blame to toss around to both major political parties. I don’t know about you, but I’m really tired of one side blaming the other for the mess we all know both created. They’re worse than my kids, and a lot more expensive! I just want the problem fixed, and I want it to stay fixed.

    …We want more than this too. We want our country to be the best. Some of us are only now realizing that for our country to be the best, each of us has to do our part to be the best we can be. I think Obama’s charisma – properly applied – could awaken many more to this fact.

    Of the promises Obama has made repeatedly, his promise to review the entire US budget “line by line”, ask the tough questions (examples: Is this really needed? Is there a more efficient way to do this?), and make tough decisions based on the answers to these, is among the most important ones for him to keep. That should apply to NASA just as much as every other government program that exists today.

  55. The recent discussion of budget brings in a lot of potential for shell games to make whatever case you want to. When the budget is divided into “mandatory” payments (social security, civil service salaries, medicaid, etc) and “discretionary” payments (defense, space, research, etc.), then the argument made about defense spending is kinda correct. Defense is more than half of the discretionary budget. (add http, three double-us, and a dot):

    Of course, arguments over what constitutes “mandatory” and “discretionary” are for an entirely different discussion.

  56. Steve Vance

    All of this is just more NASA apologist garbage. NASA needs to go. There is nothing NASA should be doing that private industry can’t do better. And if private industry isn’t interested in it, then it shouldn’t be done. Manned spaceflight is a waste of lives, time, and money. Space launches are fantastically destructive to the environment, with a single Shuttle launch releasing more greenhouse gasses into the air than China emits in SIX MONTHS. I don’t care what the supposed science benefits are, if they are needed on Earth they can be just as easily invented by private industry through other means. NASA is not responsible for the development of the digital camera, they just represented a large enough demand that research happened. If NASA were not around, someone else would have represented that demand and we would still have digital cameras. It doesn’t matter how small NASA’s budget is, waste is waste is waste. The Mars missions for example are doing NOTHING for people here on Earth. Exploring the Universe is out of order when we have huge problems here at home. We can’t even stop killing one another over religious differences or resource rights. What makes you think that humanity has the right to irrevocably destroy the Earth’s environment and then just -LEAVE- and go somewhere else? That’s absurd. Humanity needs to be taken to task for what it has done. If we kill the Earth we deserve nothing other than to die with it.

    Obama is on the right track. NASA needs to go, and he’s the president with the testicular fortitude to do it. Hopefully once China gets to the moon and proves that Apollo was a hoax it will be the final nail in the coffin. Let the other counties waste their time and money in space, we have real world problems to solve back here on the real world.

  57. StevoR

    Is Obama going to gut NASA?

    Sure hope not!

    I very much doubt it too.

    Obama is far smarter than that.

    But I do hope he’s reading Ben Bova’s non-fiction book ‘The High Road’ which points out among other things why space is the future .. Well worth a read – particularly by those who’d like to – or will – shape all our futures. Smart man Ben Bova is.

  58. StevoR

    The BA (wohoshould really know better wrote :

    “NASA is flawed, of course. It’s a government bureaucracy.”

    Non-sequiteur alert!

    It does NOT follow that just because something is a government (or public ie *our*) bureaucracy it is bad.

    Bureacucray can be bad, good or indifferent -just like private enterprise. In fact I would argue that bureacracy by nature (public service)and by purpose and reason tends more to be good & right than private enterprise which is by nature amoral and profit centred.

    Don’t knock something for ideological reasons – ie. the USA’s irrational hatred of the public sector (which includes things like y’know firefighters & social servicesa and NASA) and its irrational preference for the unfettered capitalist corporations – that have of course just gone begging to be bailed out of their own foul economic mess! 😉

    Worshipping the “invisible hand” of market forces and cold-hearted selfish “greed is good” capitalism has been a proven recipe for disaster. the state we’re all in today is evidence enough of that. :-(

    Oh & compare their respective records and achievements too :

    NASA has sent spaceprobes to every planet and landed 12 men (sadly only men so far) on the Moon. Private enterprise has had a couple of sub-orbital flights.

    Capitalism! Pah! 😛

    Believe it or not, there is a place for bureaucracy – & I’d take a mixed economy with checks and balances and govt buracrats plus even (shock! Horror! Gasp!) a dab of socialism over a “laissez faire”, (“Buyer beware”), unrestrained and unbalanced purely capitalist selfish & greedy market-ubers alles (Over all) type society anyday! 😉

  59. StevoR-Correctin

    Argh! typos & bold stuffing up. :-(

    That was meant to start :

    The BA (who should know better) wrote …

  60. Stevor– I said “flawed”, not “bad” or “incompetent”. I have dealt with many government agencies over the years and bureaucracies by their nature tend to be slow, difficult to change and difficult to deal with.

  61. Mick

    Well seems someone else already pointed out where I got the figure for the US budget spending half on a ridiculously bloated military. (What do Russia and China, the next big spenders spend COMBINED? 50 Billion? The US alone literally spends like six times as much.) (Anyway just google Death and Taxes for more of it.)

    Now for Social Security… Those who fear it, just bloody look at Europe and forget all that nonsense McCarthy put into everyone’s head. Social Security is a safetynet in society for those who need it, so that they can survive, and do so with some amount of dignity. Its not the harbinger of the apocalypse. A nation’s first duty should be to its people anyway. Also, the New Deal was good for the US, and that was the most socialist thing that ever happened in America. Socialism isn’t communism, and whats good for the rich isn’t good for everyone. (Its the other way around, whats good for everyone also benefits the rich.)

    Anyway all that said… Why not just take those ten billion from that insane military budget? You’re going to pay those taxes anyway, and I think anyone who’s is beyond the naivete that teenagers often have knows that. You are paying those taxes, end of story. No politician on either side (who’s not in some crazy anarchist wing that’s politically irrelevant and never will be relevant.) is going to seriously change that. So why not spent ten billion on just solving that that social security thing already, and also to boot spending it on education and science as well.

    Its a nice power trio. Social security means = safetynet for people who get sick, have handicaps, are disabled, or are just old etc. Good Education is something the US needs particularly hard if you ask me. And if there’s anything that REALLY deserves a bloated budget its science. Progress and new technology people! You want this, trust me.

  62. David D

    Defense spending as percent of federal budget?


    Look at how current spending (discretionary or otherwise) compares to previous years; no big changes really. As percent of discretionary spending it’s even less than some of the CLinton years.

    StevoR–I really hope you wipe your keyboard when you’re done . . . at least some of us capitalists know how to type. :)

  63. Mick

    Also I just checked the military budget for 2009 ;

    799 billion…. 68% of the budget this year.

    Also fun… military spending in 2007 of various nations;

  64. Neo

    NASA does some great things, but look at the cost. Horrendously expensive. Trillions. some call them social criminals. others call them NasHoles. what gets my goat is that they use tax money that eventually benefit big business. big business gets the rewards, and the Sheeple get the crumbs, even though its the Sheeple’s tax dollars.

  65. Mars Phoenix Lander …… $420 million

    New projector for Adler Planetarium ….. $1.5 million

    One copy of “Death From the Skies” …… $16.25

    Seeing Phil Plait’s face when Obama guts NASA’s budget …… Priceless

    Now there’s a picture I’d pay some money for. Perhaps you can autograph them and sell them for $5 apiece.

  66. peter

    StevoR, It is a “given” that bureaucracy is bad. To date I know of nothing that bureaucracy has done well. If the money spent by NASA had been simply handed over to private business (with oversight of course) then the cost to date would surely be 1/3rd for the same result. Have you never worked in a featherbedding bureaucracy? I have and couldn’t stand it. Not the people, but the system.
    The history that I read tells me that Government is to the good as its influence diminishes. The Scottish age of enlightenment for example. This is why Russia and China, even though they can turn out great engineers have floundered and will continue to do so. Britain will/is also going down the drain. No matter how many bright people you nurture the rotten system/bureaucracy will smother them.

    In North America we understand this more as we are not reared to fawn to royalty and bureaucrats and we don’t hate firefighters, but dislike very much those unionised government workers who constantly featherbed and strike. We are capable of discriminating and sorting the good from the bad.

    This is not to say that I am for “big business greed.” I have been investing for years and cringe every time I hear “greed is good” or even “profit taking” when I know that many people including myself sell at a loss. When I think of “big oil” however I think of the bureaucracies that own 97% of oil. When I think of war I think of religion and bureaucracy. When I think of kids dying in ditches I think of bureaucracy and the systems that cause it.

    Like Julian Simon I think that people are our best resource, but it’s people who need to be straightened out and the tribal/pack mentality.

  67. For those who like to keep score when NASA research produces something of major practical benefit, here is NASA’s choice for their Invention of the Year for 2007: Polyimide foam. NASA picked this winner from a long list of candidates, apparently. Polyimide foam is a kind of high-efficiency insulator, capable of resisting sound, heat and cold, and was developed for applications in space. Now that polyimide foam exists, everyone else who builds things needing insulation is probably going to be asking about how soon they can place some orders, for industrial R&D at least, and very likely for large scale mass production in future. Might engines, coolant and refrigeration technology, and thermal barriers in microchips require better insulators? I do believe they do, along with lots of other machines.

    From the NASA press release: (

    “Polyimide Foam” can be flexible or rigid, structural or non-structural and is highly durable. The foam’s density can be varied for a variety of uses including fire protection since it generates no harmful combustion products and has been tested at temperatures above 400 degrees Fahrenheit.

    For future NASA exploration vehicles, the foam could be used in applications where reduced weight and increased durability are necessary for missions to the moon or Mars. Several commercial companies have purchased hundreds of thousands of board feet for various applications because it is lighter and safer than earlier materials. The foam outperforms similar materials currently used in the aerospace industry.

    How many new products, innovations and jobs will polyimide yield? Who knows. How many did the web yield? The web was invented by CERN physicists who wanted a more efficient means of communicating data amongst research groups. The computer itself was invented to solve problems in missile – i.e. rocket – targeting.

    Here are some innovations that led directly from NASA-funded research: kidney dialysis machines, CAT scanners, applications in freeze-drying food, aluminum/Mylar insulation (car/truck engines), improved water-purification technology (you’re welcome, Third World), surface enhancement coatings (common in ovens), better and faster digital signal-processing (digital cameras, CAT and MRI medical scanners), vacuum metallized insulators (REI parkas), cordless power tools, and cool-suits (you’re welcome, firefighters). And those are just from the Apollo program.

    NASA helped make all those – and many other – applications happen by offering competitive grants and contract bids to private corporations and academic researchers, as a means of solving tricky problems in space. Back here on the ground, everybody got cool stuff as a result.

    And all that for less than 1% of the Federal budget. That’s quite a bargain.

  68. Mick

    Peter wrote; “When I think of kids dying in ditches I think of bureaucracy and the systems that cause it.”

    Funny, I think of capitalism with that. Like free trade + Africa and things like that. (For the uninitiated, lets say you lived in… Cameroon or something like that, and wanted to start your own business. With free trade (that deceptively named thing that should really be called anti-tariff-ism or something like that.) you now have to compete with big western businesses. Thus you are crushed or bought up by them, and they export their jobs to your country, because they have to pay their employees less. For you in Cameroon, this means your economy will never grow, because then they’d have to pay you more. Its convenient for the west to keep you a third world country with low wages. And for the workers in the west, it means their jobs are gone.)

    And remember kids… Laissez-faire capitalism was what Bush did. Look how well that worked! Worldwide financial crisis!

    Also where I live in the Netherlands, a far more socialist country, we’re actually still doing pretty decent, economically.

    Now streamlining bureaucracy far as that goes IS a good idea. But I think Bush proved that capitalism just ain’t all that. It never was either. The mixed market is where its at.

  69. Usman

    “Studying the Universe, exploring it, trying to understand it, is part of what makes us human.
    We need that, and it costs so little. I hope some of the brilliant scientists Obama has chosen to advise him can make that point to him. I would consider it one of their most important duties.”

    The people Obama has chosen are physicists. True they are competent people but one thing I can tell you. Physicists are typically not NASA fans and the people that are Obama’s science advisors seem to have a environmental ‘tinge’ to them. With these people NASA might not get a budget hit considering they are scientists but still NASA might not remain a priority. Damaging for the Constellation program anyway.

  70. gss_000

    Private business would never have gotten as far as we are now because it is in essence a giant chicken. All industry cares about is making money. It doesn’t care about solving problems, or exploration, or science, it cares about money. No bottom line profit, no venture. It does have its value and use, but it is not the solution to everything.

    NASA is more than needed as the trailblazer, to do those projects that no one else is willing to do, and a bigger agency can do bigger things. Business is conservative by nature, while NASA, and its bureaucracy with all its flaws, can show that something is viable and useful. Besides, where do you think all its money goes to? A lot goes to private industries already. That’s who builds most of these systems.

    I have to say, I would be a lot more critical of NASA’s budget management if this wasn’t something systemic to the entire aerospace industry. Sure, NASA should work to do better, but you see the same problem with projects with JAXA, ESA, ISRO, not to mention EADS’ A330, Boeing’s 787, Lockheed Martin’s F-35, etc ad nauseum. Maybe it’s not just a NASA problem but something that has to be addressed in the entire industry.

  71. David D


    I was hoping for a more insightful analysis of world trade and economics, but, alas, not from you. Sorry, but the world is a lot more complicated than “big Western businesses” vs. low wages in Cameroon.

    “And remember kids… Laissez-faire capitalism was what Bush did. Look how well that worked! Worldwide financial crisis!” This statement is just ignorant.

    As far as the New Deal being good for the US, there are many economists and historians who feel that the New Deal prolonged the Depression unnecessarily.

  72. Joel

    Mick, Bush was the biggest spender in modern history. He isn’t a free market capitalist, he believes in goverment controlled buisness. That’s a form of soft facism. He promoted the military-industrial complex and mindless war spending for 8 years.

    and Bush is a Keynesian, like Obama. Obama supporters seem elated over his advisors, and i give him credit for that. But big deal- having a massive federal goverment is the reason we are in so much trouble right now. We need to try a smaller federal goverment, and it’s too bad that Nasa is likely going to be the Obama scape goat. (it likely will- don’t fool yourselves.)

    Like Phil said, compared to this war spending, Nasa spends NOTHING, but give’s us so much in return. I hope all you Obama-maniacs call him out if he stays in the middle east fighting religious fanatics. And why can’t we streamline the military spending and bring our troops home from Europe, Japan, Australia, the Middle East, instead of closing basing at home. Think home much money that would save/ pump into local economies.

  73. Steve D

    I can’t believe the level of ignorance on these posts. The war in Iraq takes up half the Federal budget? The 2009 budget is $3.1 trillion, of which about $700 billion is for security – Iraq, Afghanistan, Bosnia, Kosovo, Korea, Germany, all of it. $1.9 trillion is for the social spending we supposedly skimp on. That’s right, while fighting two wars, we’re spending three times as much on social spending. Figuring this out would require extreme measures like actually looking up the Federal Budget instead of just firing off numbers off the top of your head.

  74. Very nicely put Phil.

    These pesky wars can be a tad inconvenient to a fiscal balance. Even house prices are falling, and with the inconvenience of Banks not passing on the benefits bestowed on them by Governments to the masses, life is now a little bit harder for people who own a house.

    Repayments on a loan for the second car are now tougher to meet. Even the purchase of a 7th DVD player needs to be reconsidered! Yikes!

    Men, women and children being shot in the head, tortured, or having their legs blown off with a land-mine (even though in another part of the World) does indeed have repercussions.

    It’s a tiny bit of a shame about all those baby’s dyeing of starvation on our doorstep to. To think that the trillions (that’s 1*10^12) Dollars being so wisely invested in a war killing thousands of people could actually be used to fix trifles like this.

    Will we ever know a world without war? Not much point in spreading humanity anywhere else in the Universe if all we’re going to do is kill. The trouble is, is not all of us are like that are we?

    We could kill all the bad people, but that would make US bad. If we think of ourselves as a ‘single body’ we are then like a person with an illness. The sick person needs to be cured before they can go out amongst other people for fear of spreading the disease.

    Once a happy and enlightened race has risen from the ashes – Their collaboration, cooperation and education will bring huge advances to science.

    The corresponding discoveries and developments in physics will make advances in space travel on a scale we have never before seen…

    It’s a good thing space is as large as it is, or a sick man might have already ventured out and started to seed this Galaxy.

    All of us are one body and WE CAN make a change. Believe it.
    Happy Christmas.

    Peace be with you.

  75. @Steve OK. 1*10^12 Dollars is rather a lot of money. But it’s not numbers that will save us, but the goodness in what motivates us.

  76. Noyfb

    I will give your president the same respect and consideration you gave mine…oh wait…


  77. Mick

    Insightful comments, its quite impossible to give them. Those on the right and the libertarians all have their own ‘facts’ and ‘historybooks’.

    Whatever I’d say some liar on the right disputes with lots of BS, but those on that end of the scale take it for truth. Because their view on economy is like a religion to them. Whatever I say is going to come off as me having ‘my facts wrong.’ Because the only facts people on the right/libertarian end trust are their own ‘facts’ which of course support their position. They could be put in charge and run things into the ground by going on their way of doing things. But they’ll still find some random person to blame. Because their method, like a religion, is beyond reproach. I’d have to argue to you on YOUR terms, but on your terms you are right and I am wrong. So its a lose-lose situation, no matter WHAT insight I provide. If I tell the truth, I’m wrong. Because the lies of the right contradict it. If I go with those lies, then I am wrong too.

    Fact is, my example may be simplified, but that IS what it amounts to when you boil it down to the core. And even if it didn’t it doesn’t change anything about my MAIN point.

    Why the hell spend 800 billion on the military? A mere 10 billion of it (Which on the scale of 800 is a fraction of it.) and spend it on things like science, education, and yes the wellbeing of the population. Why is it so bad to spend things on the wellbeing of the people? Why are the right in America so proud of the third world situations in which its poorest live? So proud to have the second worst healthcare in the industrialized world (only South Africa does worse, so you see what leagues the US is in there.) in spite of being one of the wealthiest countries.

    And Bush may have not been a Liberatarian, small gov’t he ain’t. But his economic ideas where pretty much the same. Laissez-faire, let the companies do whatever they want, no oversight whatsoever. The only way to make it more liberatarian would be to also eliminate anti-trust laws and things like that. And we already HAD that in history, around 1905 to 1911 or so. Contrary to what the most insane libertarians claim, this was not paradise.

  78. David D

    You really never presented any facts at all, at least none that were open to interpretation, like the budget thing. Of course, someone else’s dispute with your assertions is just BS. What’s it like to live in your world, Mick?

    Maybe you can present us one day with the facts behind that Bush=worldwide financial crisis thing. Maybe go stand with over by the 9/11 troofers for a while, if you’re not already . . .

    “Why is it so bad to spend things on the wellbeing of the people? Why are the right in America so proud of the third world situations in which its poorest live?” Where do you get this stuff? You got “facts” for that, right?

    From what I’ve read, THe Netherlands have been retreating somewhat from the idea of the welfare state–I wonder why? You all seem to be doing a great job with your Muslim population, too.

    Just sayin’.

  79. MAC

    One thing that would probably help NASA a lot – and is long overdue, IMHO – is to split the first “A” out. Establish a National Aeronautics Administration, fold the FAA into it, and let the former NASA (OK, I know we already have an NSA, but we’ll think of something) concentrate on space. As it is, aeronautics gets short shrift and is really a distraction to the agency’s main mission.

    I hope that Obama helps commercial space initiatives take the lead in operating the space infrastructure, because NASA’s job has always been to conduct research and develop new technology so that it could benefit private enterprise. Instead, it has become a bus service to space, basically.

    I disagree with those who say we don’t need manned spaceflight – people do things more efficiently and are much more adaptable than machines – and there’s no reason we shouldn’t have both. Let the probes pave the way, with carbon-based units doing the followup.

    But I agree with those who say Ares I needs some killin’. Aside from being one of the most ridiculous-looking monstrosities to ever emerge from a CAD app, its numerous technical problems are, or should be, a red flag to anyone contemplating actually flying in the thing.

  80. Grand Lunar

    I couldn’t agree with you more, Phil.

    NASA isn’t the one that needs it’s budget gutted. Not by a long shot.

    People hyperfixate on the visible projects, while real pork barrel projects that serve little or no use run free.

    We don’t need gee-whiz machines for war, nor do we need to stay in a country we had no business being in the first place.

    We need to expand ourselves off the Earth. It’s well worth the cost, even in times like now.

  81. Why doesn’t Obama just explain to the public this point you’re trying to make? Why cut a budget that is so small to begin with? If he cuts it just to appear fiscally responsible, he will lose my respect.

  82. Gonzo

    Gut Defense not NASA. I don’t care whether the money is mandatory, needed or discretionary, whether it’s as much as when Clinton was in office is only relevant to partisan hacks. Cut DEFENSE NOW! Quit using our military to deal with terrorism, essentially a law enforcement issue. Then piece meal budget cuts can end, programs that need and deserve funding can get and we, as a nation can stop wasting money preparing for some giant war that was supposed to happen against the Soviets in Eastern Europe. We need no more nuke subs, we need no next generation fighters. The Department of Defense needs to be brought back to reality, a reality where they can’t just spend unendingly on unneeded programs.

  83. David D

    Yeah! We can just issue bench warrants for AlQaeda, pick ’em up when they get stopped for speeding or something like that. Their moms are gonna be REALLY pissed if they have to deal with the cops!!!

  84. Mark

    How to save $$$ at NASA? SCRAP THE “VISION”. CAN WE HAVE A SCIENCE-BASED NASA RATHER THAN A FAITH-BASED ONE? PLEASE? We are committed to servicing the ISS and having a shuttle replacement — but other than that please let’s dump the entire “Vision for Space Exploration” program. We ought to:

    * Divert all funds from the “space exploration” program to Earth Science. Strip the manned aeronautics program down to ISS commitments and the Shuttle replacement. We must scrap “Man-Moon-Mars” and GWB’s “Vision for Space Exploration”( that must be recognized for what it is: an expensive fantasy in which we can no longer afford to indulge. Perhaps most people do not realize that we cannot yet be “space explorers” — there are NO remotely habitable planets that we can hope to get to without some tremendous breakthrough in physics (e.g. the closest known possibly rocky extra-solar planet, Gliese 581, is 20 light years away, at least five times the mass of Earth, and in a greenhouse state). Sure, we’ll soon find others, closer, smaller, and cooler than Gliese 581 — maybe with liquid water at the surface –but for the foreseeable future we have only this ONE habitable planet and NASA is best placed to engineer, launch, and operate observation platforms that allow us the perspectives we need to understand it.

    * Recreate an autonmous NASA Earth Science division, with a remit that extends to the creation and maintenance of long-term climate records (NOAA does not do this; USGS does not do this; EPA does not do this, DoI does not do this: amazingly, NO federal agency is charged with this). Without a strong role for NASA in accumulating climate records as well as technological innovation we will have a piecemeal picture of how our world is evolving. See also “Eyes in the sky go dim” (BBC News, April 25, 2007) at

    * Reinstate the pre-2006 NASA Mission Statement that read “To understand and protect our home planet; to explore the universe and search for life; to inspire the next generation of explorers … as only NASA can.”. The current statement is so bland it reads as if an auditor wrote it (“to pioneer the future in space exploration, scientific discovery, and aeronautics research”. How to inspire students with that? See also:

  85. S

    To those who warn of a population-induced disaster: I remind you that people have been worrying about this and making such predictions for centuries, most famously articulated by Malthus ( The key assumption here is that food production increases in arithmetic progression and consequently cannot keep pace with geometric population growth; however, this assumption has been repeatedly broken thanks to human innovation. To me, this suggests that as long as we continue to push forward on the scientific front and detect and start working on these problems in advance, we will be able to avoid Malthusian catastrophes.
    Just my $.02. A warning: I don’t check this blog very often, so if you respond, there is a chance I won’t write back for a while. My apologies.

  86. from out here in Europe I can tell you this: even when the US reputation around the world tanked supremely, when it became a bunch of shatters, when the country it became known as the most dangerous threat to peace and stability on the planet, people still got all thrilled and pumped up with each success NASA brought us.

    Funny how its always the US (or Israel) that always is “the most dangerous threat to peace and stability” and never the assorted genocidal dictators, lunatics and madmen who either openly use chemical weapons against their own people (Saddam) , threaten democracies with nuclear attack (Iran), keep most of their people in perpetual starvation and virtual prisons (North Korea, Zimbabwe and many others) or export their genocidal religious creed around the world supported by billions of dollars of oil money (Saudi Arabia). Sixth years of Europeans (please note, technically I am one as well) hiding behind the skirts of the US and yet remaining utterly and totally ungrateful…Jorge, if you hate the US so much, go live with the Taliban. They have quite the attitude to science, you know….executing meterologists for “sorcery” and all that.

    Anyway, Phil, what will you do when your messiah *does* gut NASA?

  87. John

    People like Mark are short sighted and ignorant.

    Cut the “Manned” space program and focus all efforts back on Earth bound science only? Maintain the ISS, but drop all efforts to get to the Moon and Mars because they’re not exciting???

    Instead of listening to the people who cannot see past their own noses, we should quadruple the NASA budget and start building bases on the Moon ASAP. We should get a base of a minimum of 10,000 people on the Moon and 1000 people to Mars by 2025.

    You see, it’s not science that inspires the next generation, it’s extraordinary science that inspires them. It’s making fantasies come true that inspires children to work all that much harder, because they finally realize that they might have a chance to take part in the mission to space.

    Mark’s vision is what was wrong with NASA. Mark wants NASA to become another political propaganda machine that does dull Earth-Science-Only studies for purely political purposes.

    What do you think inspired the next generation more? Hubble or Apollo? And which science has helped us understand how to conserve more? Human space flight has many challenges that once solved, will help us here on Earth with those same challenges. Like, recycling our waste water back into drinking water. The science for that would never have been done in the way it was done if it were not for the human need. Remember, necessity is the mother of invention, and human space flight creates more necessity than robotic Earth-Centric Earth orbit only science.

    If we did what Mark wanted, we might as well just shut NASA down.

  88. ccaudi

    For the past 20 years, poor management has bloated NASA. It shall soon be free of the horribly expensive and ridiculously ancient and inefficient Shuttle program. Unfortunately it will still be shackled to the Space Station. Until the Station is de-orbited, NASA should focus its space efforts on its only space asset. Future exploration programs should consist of operations that lead to a future goal, say perhaps landing a man on Mars. Going back to the Moon is simply a sideshow. Beyond these efforts, NASA should slim down, leverage it’s personnel for muliple missions, and rely on academic resources to for research and development.

  89. Benny

    “A fresh wind is blowing through the White House, and it’s taking away the stench of antiscience. To doubly mix a metaphor, it looks like the jackbooted heel that’s been at the throat of science for eight years is about to get the boot.”

    Nice to see you guys are so unbiased! Sheesh! Obama is destroying the space program and still you manage to attack Bush!


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